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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Southeastern Exposure

Art Review

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If Walker Evans' document of tenant farmers in 1930s Alabama were stripped of its human element, the residue might resemble jw lawson's "Southeastern View," a series of photographs made by the Milwaukee-based artist and gallery owner over the past seven years on sojourns home to his native Tennessee. In lawson's second solo exhibition at his eponymous gallery, he excavates the ruins below the Rust Belt to uncover contemporary artifacts otherwise imperceptible to interstate tourists traveling along prescribed four-lane routes through the South.

The dominant narrative in lawson's uninhabited spaces evokes decay and quotidian despair, but it is the more personal subtext˜one of longing, even homesickness˜which haunts the photographs. Rather than exploiting the weathered surfaces of his found objects, crumbling walls and junked automobiles are photographed from an unobtrusive distance, a method that elevates still life to portraiture. Forgotten bicycles, a wooden headboard and a red car door huddle together on a bed of leaves and bare twigs in Bikes and Door, Highway 70, Tennessee. An image that poses more questions than answers, it exemplifies lawson's aptitude for finding the poetic among the prosaic, and Dada amid the detritus.

While lawson's compositions recall the exquisite geometry of an Agnes Martin painting, with spaces bisected by strong horizontal lines and populated with manmade rectangular forms, hard lines are softened by nature's verdant grasp. Organic elements, like vines creeping behind two pumps in Abandoned Gas Station, Highway 421, Virginia, seem to suggest the South's agrarian roots remain vital despite collapsing mom-and-pop economies in the wake of big-box homogenization.

Images from "Southeastern View" are culled from a larger body of work, with only a third represented on the gallery walls. They are to be published in a forthcoming volume alongside a collection of verse written by Memphis-based poet Dwayne Butcher in response to lawson's photographs. The closing reception for "Southeastern View: New Photographs by jw lawson" will be held on March 28 from 5-9 p.m at jw lawson Fine Art, 2925 S. Delaware Ave. in Bay View. For more information, contact the gallery at (414)562-4568 or via email at gallery@jwlawson.com.
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